Welcome back to the Starting 5. The Starting 5 is written multiple times per week by Adam Spencer to keep you up-to-date on all the news and events in the world of college hoops. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamSpencer4.

It’s almost Christmas, so that means conference play is almost here for most leagues across the country (the Big Ten and ACC got started a little early this year).

Still, combine that with bowl season getting underway on Friday and it’s about to be a really intense part of the college basketball season, when teams face scrutiny from a national audience for the first time.

So, with that said, here’s a look at today’s Starting 5:

1. The Opening Tip

The curse of being No. 1 struck again this weekend, and this time, the No. 1 team wasn’t even ranked No. 1 when it lost.

After Louisville lost earlier last week, Ohio State was poised to slide into the top spot. Instead, the Buckeyes went to Minnesota and lost to the Golden Gophers, 84-71. Marcus Carr was an absolute star, pouring in 35 points for the Gophers, to go with 7 assists and 3 rebounds.

Here are some of the highlights from Carr’s big game:

The Buckeyes did debut at No. 1 in the NCAA NET rankings, but that’s likely to change after this week. Now, in the AP Poll, Kansas is No. 1 (which pains me as a Mizzou grad).

The Jayhawks already have 1 loss, though, so maybe they can stay atop the rankings for a couple of weeks, which seems like an eternity these days.

2. Home-court Advantage

The Auburn Tigers went to the Final Four last year and were a controversial foul call from potentially making it to the title game. They lost Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke, but so far this season, they haven’t seemed to miss a beat.

The KenPom.com rankings have the Tigers at No. 17 (they’re at No. 12 in the AP Poll), with the No. 18 offense in the country. That’s not bad.

Oh, and they’re 1 of the 4 undefeated teams remaining at the Division I level, along with Liberty, San Diego State and Duquesne. It’s easy to see why when PG J’Von McCormick is playing like this:

That’s a confident 3, and one the Tigers will hope McCormick can make a lot of going forward. Coach Bruce Pearl called him the “best player on the court” in a 67-61 win over Saint Louis on Saturday.

Now, for some more news from around the SEC:

  • Mason Jones is for real. The Arkansas guard launched this 3-pointer from the mid-court logo just before halftime:

  • That was only part of a 41-point effort in a huge win against Tulsa. Jones and Isaiah Joe might be the best backcourt in the SEC right now.
  • Mississippi State picked up a much needed tough win Saturday, going to Newark to take down Kansas State. The Bulldogs trailed early, but eventually they overcame the Wildcats. For a team that hasn’t had many signature nonconference wins in recent years, this one was huge.
  • Tennessee’s offense was almost non-existent against Memphis on Saturday. The Vols hit an abysmal 25% of their shots, with star guards Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner combining for only 10 points on 3-for-21 (1-for-11 from 3-point range) from the field. That’s not going to get it done against East Tennessee State, let alone a ranked team like Memphis.

Now let’s take a look at some of the top non-SEC stories.

3. Road Game

So, that North Carolina offense is still a disaster. Cole Anthony is averaging 19.1 points per game, and that’s about the only offense the Tar Heels have been getting lately.

The Heels have lost 3 consecutive games and 4 of their past 5. This last loss (at home against Wofford) was especially bad. UNC committed 11 turnovers and only shot 36.5% from the field. Add in an absence for the banged up Anthony, and that spelled disaster in the 68-64 loss.

Listen to this ESPN call of Wofford’s win:

The Tar Heels’ reward? A trip to Spokane to take on No. 2 Gonzaga. Yikes. That won’t be easy.

Now, for some other tidbits from around the country:

  • Oregon’s Payton Pritchard may not be the biggest guy on the court, but he is a wizard around the rim. Look at some of these highlights from the Ducks’ win at Michigan on Saturday:


  • Every one of those 23 points was important in Oregon’s 71-70 overtime win. Yes, he missed a key free throw at the end of the second half, but he more than atoned for that. Meanwhile, Michigan was definitely overrated coming out of the Battle 4 Atlantis holiday tournament.
  • How crazy is the Big Ten already this year? Well, after Ohio State’s loss at Minnesota, 12 of the 14 B1G teams are 1-1 in conference play. Michigan State is 1-0 and Northwestern is 0-1, but wouldn’t you know it — they play Wednesday night:

  • If Northwestern wins, that would be a pretty crazy look at the standings in the Big Ten. Not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like that in a 14-team conference.
  • Gonzaga picked up the best win of the weekend, maybe, going into Arizona on Saturday night and handing the then-No. 15 Wildcats their second loss, 84-80. Mark Few’s team isn’t afraid to play anybody at any given time. Heck, the Bulldogs are 3-0 against the Pac-12 this year, with all 3 wins coming against teams that were ranked at the time (Oregon, Washington and Arizona). Gonzaga is working on that No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament (even though the Bulldogs play in the WAC).

Speaking of the Bulldogs, they highlight our upcoming games this week.

4. Outlet Pass

This week is another big one in college basketball, but Saturday once again has the biggest matchups. That doesn’t mean there aren’t games worth your time over the next few days, though. Here are the 5 best matchups:

  1. North Carolina at No. 2 Gonzaga (Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2) — This is about the worst road game the struggling Tar Heels could face right now. Can they bounce back from a couple of tough weeks?
  2. Utah vs. No. 6 Kentucky (Wednesday at 11 p.m. Eastern in Las Vegas on ESPN2) — This will be a great test for the young Wildcats. A neutral-site win in Vegas would go a long way toward padding Kentucky’s tournament resume. Plus, the Wildcats face Ohio State in Vegas on Saturday.
  3. No. 21 Tennessee at Cincinnati (Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2) — These are 2 teams with strong defenses. Which will give Wednesday night?
  4. NC State at No. 12 Auburn (Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2) — Auburn is 1 of the 4 remaining undefeated teams. Can the Tigers fend off a tough NC State squad?
  5. Saint Mary’s at Arizona State (Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern on Pac-12 Network) — Both are really good teams, and the winner will likely be ranked by this time next week.

That triple-header of action on ESPN2 on Wednesday night should be a lot of fun to watch! We’ll see who wins those big games.

5. Buzzer Beaters

This is the section in which I’ll answer a couple of random questions (that don’t necessarily have to be related to basketball). Let’s get started:

Ham or turkey for Christmas?

I’m going to go with ham for Christmas. Turkey is for Thanksgiving. My dad also likes to cook steaks for dinner on Christmas Day, though, so how about steaks?

What’s your best college basketball memory?

Watching the 2005 Arizona-Illinois game in the NCAA Tournament was incredible. Illinois’ comeback from 14 points down with less than 4 minutes left was something I’ll never forget. Here are the highlights in case you’ve forgotten.

Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.